Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Body Image During Pregnancy

A while back, I posted an awesome video of Jennifer Garner commenting about her latest "baby bump." I felt thankful to see a woman being proud of her body for the amazing feat of bearing children. In a culture that judges women based on appearances so much, it was a breath of fresh air!

I have heard so many pregnant women comment about feeling overweight and unattractive, and I've always thought, "Stop being dramatic. You're pregnant! You're supposed to look like that!"

Little did I expect that when I experienced pregnancy myself, my feelings about my body would be so mixed. Realizing that I am about to surpass my husband in body weight is hard, even though I know that weight is what's healthy for my baby. Seeing so many other parts of my body change beyond just the weight is hard, too. Things leak and sag and ache in ways they did not before. I need my husband to tie my shoes when we go on a walk (and I still have 12 weeks of getting rounder left to go!) Amidst these changes, I sometimes struggle to keep a positive attitude.

Some days, when I look in the mirror, I think my bump is pretty cute, I feel excited about what is to come, and I have joy about the ways my body was made for this purpose. Other days, I walk around calling myself "pudge muffin" or using any number of names that I know in my heart are not helpful or uplifting; I would never say those things about another woman, and yet I feel ok thinking them about myself.

Me at 26 weeks (left) and my friend
Lillian who is due a few weeks later.
Further complicating the pregnant body experience is the way it affects my interactions with others. During the first trimester, I wrote about how lonely it felt to be pregnant and feel sick, with almost no one else knowing. Now, I find the opposite is challenging. Something that began with the most intimate expression of love is now on public display to every stranger on the street; whether I want to share or not, my pregnancy is being carried with me on my physical body everywhere I go.

One particularly trying aspect of this is attempting to graciously listen and respond to others' comments and opinions about this body. (These comments are on top of all the opinions about breastfeeding, co-sleeping, modes of dress, discipline, and all of the other advice well-meaning folks share when they see my baby bump - but those are for another post altogether.)

Even though my weight is on track for my stage of pregnancy, and I have been told as much by my doctor, in just one single week, I had three different people - yes, three - look at my baby bump and ask me whether I was sure I was not having twins. (Aka, "You look enormous!") Each time, I laughed it off and reassured the person that I am not having twins, to the best of my and my doctor's knowledge. Other times, I have had people tell me I am not eating enough at an event and that I shouldn't be depriving myself. I usually just chuckle and let them know that I have eaten a meal beforehand.

But inside, I keep wondering why so many people (mostly women) think these comments are ok, especially when they are in direct response to the size of my abdomen.

Here is what I really wish others around me knew. Being pregnant is physically and psychologically hard! And if you've been through it before, you should know that better than anyone! I hope that personal experience can lead to extra sensitivity instead of extra license to critique.

Comments about a pregnant woman's size in almost any form can cut especially deep; not only do they single out a woman's appearance, but they also carry the added weight of critiquing a mom's ability to adequately care for her unborn child. If I can't even manage to feed myself correctly for the sake of my baby's health now, imagine the parenting disaster when the child comes out!

Anything along the lines of, "Wow, you're huge!" no matter how cleverly disguised or cutely worded, does not feel good. I am capable of tracking my own weight and making decisions about when I am hungry and what is best to eat. Even if I were visibly struggling with putting on more weight than is ideal, that would be a matter between my doctor and me. And then there are some women who struggle with not being able to put on enough weight during pregnancy and can feel belittled or saddened by kind-sounding comments about how they "don't even look pregnant."

A pregnant body is no less personal than any other body. Every woman carries pregnancy differently, and each person who experiences pregnancy has to come to grips with a new physical reality that is different than any she has experienced before.

I am sure I have made insensitive comments to pregnant women in the past and not even realized the implications. I may even still be doing it from time to time! Going through it myself, however, I can really see the importance of being positive - and when in doubt, silent.

Despite the experiences described above, it's not all bad.

For me, the second trimester involved increased energy and much more positivity about the life stage my husband and I are entering. And I can confidently say that my close friends and family have been amazingly supportive. My mom and sister helped me shop for maternity clothes and kept telling me how great I looked. My husband reminds me every day that he loves me, appreciates what I am doing for our child already, and thinks I am beautiful and sexy. And many friends, both young and old, have said things like, "You look great!" or, "You have that pregnancy glow!" that make me feel uplifted and encouraged. They have listened well and even laughed with me in response to my so not carrying twins! To these amazing folks, I say, keep doing what you're doing. I am so thankful for you!

19 week ultrasound - It's a boy!
Baby feet.